A 35-year-old New Westminster man has been sentenced to a conditional discharge with three years of probation after pleading guilty to a series of random, unprovoked transit attacks on South Asian men in Burnaby, Vancouver and New Westminster.
Rainier Jesse Azucena was charged in seven assaults that took place on buses and trains and near transit stations between Oct. 29, 2021 and Feb. 7, 2022.
“By virtue of some delusion that apparently targeted Indo Canadian men, Mr. Azucena would, without warning, attack, either kick at or punch these unsuspecting complainants who were sitting on the bus minding their own business,” Crown prosecutor Jonas Dow said at a sentencing hearing in Vancouver provincial court Friday.
But Dow added there was “tragedy in both columns” in the case.
Azucena has schizophrenia and had fallen into a “great gap in any mental health services,” according to Dow.
He had grown beyond his family’s ability to care for him, and his mental health issues had gone untreated for some time, Dow said.
“He was off his meds. It’s as simple as that,” defence lawyer Terence La Liberte said.
After Azucena’s arrest, La Liberte said transit police took him to Royal Columbian Hospital, but he then ended up at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre for a month.
“I think our system’s going to have to look into this because, if he was getting the proper care, we probably wouldn’t have these difficulties,” he said.
La Liberte said Azucena has “some deep-seated concerns about certain racial groups because of experiences he’s had” and is unable to “rationalize” them when he’s off his medications.
But for nearly five months now, Azucena has been at a mental health facility and has stabilized, according to La Liberte.
“He’s well on his way,” La Liberte said. “He’s properly medicated; he has the support system he needs.”
In a joint sentencing submission, Dow and La Liberte called for a conditional discharge and three years of probation.
That means Azucena, who doesn’t have a criminal record, will not have one if he abides by the conditions of his probation.
B.C. provincial court Judge Jodie Werier accepted the plan.
“I’m satisfied a conditional discharge is the appropriate outcome,” she said.
During his probation, Azucena will have to get treatment and take his medications.
He is also banned from contacting any of his victims and from possessing any weapons.
Azucena pleaded guilty to four of the seven assault charges. The rest were stayed.
Metro Vancouver Transit Police described five of the attacks Azucena was charged with in a Feb. 14 news release.
On Oct. 29, 2021, a man was getting off a number 9 bus by the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station at about 10:30 p.m., when another man approached from behind and kicked him several times in the legs and tried to hit him in the face, according to the release.
On Jan. 6, a passenger was sitting aboard a train near Royal Oak Station at about 5:30 p.m., when another man got up from his seat and, without provocation, kicked the victim in the face, according to transit police.
On Jan. 26, a SkyTrain passenger near the Metrotown Station at about 8 p.m. was punched in the back of the head three or four times. A short time later, another victim was hit in the face with an empty beer can on a different train, according to the transit police release.
On Feb. 3, a SkyTrain passenger near Patterson station at about 5 p.m. was punched in the face up to six times, police said.
Transit police said investigators had linked the assaults to a single individual who was “known to police.”